Learning about HIV

When talking about HIV, we should only share accurate facts and stats to end the misinformation and harmful myths that are out there. We’ve put together some examples to help you better understand and to educate others.

HIV and AIDS

Let’s get this out of the way: HIV and AIDS are not the same. But if HIV is left untreated, it can become AIDS. That’s why knowing your status and starting your treatment as soon as possible is crucial. Without treatment, your immune system becomes weaker, and you’ll become more susceptible to illnesses and eventually, to AIDS. But that doesn’t have to happen if you take the proper steps. HIV is completely manageable, and you can keep living your life when you stick with the proper treatment!

Facts

You can live a healthy life with HIV.

HIV doesn’t currently have a cure, but that won’t stop you from living a healthy, fulfilling life. And you can make it happen by making safe choices. Use protection, know your partner’s status, and avoid STIs, unprotected sex, and injection drug use.

What is HIV?

HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It attacks the body’s immune system and if left untreated, can develop into AIDS.

There are three stages of HIV:

Stage 1: Acute HIV Infection

The most contagious stage where an individual has a large amount of HIV in their blood. Some will experience flu-like symptoms or none at all. HIV is diagnosed by antigen/antibody tests or nucleic acid tests (NATs).

Stage 2: Chronic HIV Infection

During an asymptomatic — or showing-no-symptoms — stage, HIV reproduces at very low levels and can be transmitted. At this time, CD4 cell counts go down and virus levels increase. Symptoms may begin and the body can move into Stage 3.

If HIV medicine is taken as prescribed, you may never move beyond Stage 2.

Stage 3: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

This is the final phase of HIV infection. Your immune system is severely compromised which leads to increased infections, illness, and cancer. Thanks to advancements in treatment, this stage has become far less common today than in the earlier days of HIV.

Anyone sexually active or sharing needles is at risk for HIV.

HIV is not limited to your gender, sexual preference, age, race, or ethnicity. That’s why it’s important for all of us to take the necessary steps to prevent HIV, STDs, and STIs.

Over 18,000 people are living with HIV in Dallas County.

Over 18,000 people are living with HIV in Dallas County. Knowing your status can save your life. Treating HIV early can lead to living a healthy life.

Transmission

Sexual intercourse — primarily through anal sex but can also be transmitted vaginally.

  • Contact through blood, vaginal fluids, or semen
  • Sharing needles of any kind
  • Mother to baby during pregnancy and birth

Myths

“I can get HIV by sharing a drink or kissing someone living with HIV.”

FALSE. HIV does not survive long outside the human body and cannot reproduce outside the human body. This means it cannot be transmitted through saliva, tears, sweat, mosquitoes, or other insects. So hugging, shaking hands, or sharing toilets and dishes are not ways to transmit HIV.

“HIV and AIDS are the same things.”

FALSE. Being HIV positive is not the same as having AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome); however if left untreated HIV can become AIDS. In the simplest terms, HIV is a virus, AIDS is a disease.

“You can only get HIV if you’re gay or transgender.”

FALSE. HIV can affect anyone sexually active. HIV can be contracted through unprotected anal or vaginal sex and sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment. Over 19% of people living with HIV contracted the virus through heterosexual intercourse.

“Mothers living with HIV can’t safely have children.”

FALSE. The risk of transmitting HIV to your baby can be 1% or less as long as you’re taking all of your prescribed medications throughout the pregnancy, labor, and delivery AND if you give your baby the prescribed HIV medication for 4-6 weeks after birth. A doctor will prescribe everything you need as well as keep up with your progress through checkups.

“HIV is a death sentence.”

FALSE. Thanks to preventative medication, known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) — which consists of a medication regime prescribed by doctors — and accessible resources, you can live a healthy and normal life with HIV. It’s all about knowing your status (the earlier the better), seeking treatment, and taking the medication prescribed to you so it can suppress the virus.